“Wow. This is my first interview,” jokes Will Byron. As we watch my one-year-old son clamber over barrel racks towards the sulphur dioxide, I think it’s fair to say Byron hasn’t hit the big time yet. But I’m honoured to catch him near the start of Onannon’s journey. The three lads behind it have “proper” jobs at wineries of fine repute. But this too is a serious venture that’s turned out some seriously good wines.
Charming, cheerful and hardworking, Byron’s the kind of bloke at whom mums would gladly fling their daughters – or themselves. The same could be said for the other two Onannoners, Kaspar Hermann and Sam Middleton, grandson of Mount Mary legend Dr. John Middleton. The three of them kicked off Onannon with a three-barrel production of Gippsland Pinot Noir in 2008. By 2012, the range had grown to three releases, taking in a Mornington Peninsula Pinot and Gippsland Chardonnay.
When I first heard the name it immediately called to mind the peerless Longpigs song On and On, while it seems those of a less romantic bent have linked it with a seed-spilling sinner from the Bible. It is, in fact, an amalgam of the last letters of the boys’ surnames. Whatever, it seems assured that the story of Onannon will run and run.
Gippsland likewise appears to have a bright future. The likes of Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip have put it on the map but that map remains sketchy. “I think it’s still an untapped resource. It’s going to take people to go out there and make definable wines from specific sites for Gippsland to become a region that people can taste and recognise,” says Byron. “It’s nice to feel like you’re at the forefront of a region getting discovered.”
For those who don’t know, Gippsland is a zone to the east of Melbourne’s suburbs, with well over 200km separating its westernmost winery from its counterpart in the farthest east. The latest edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Encyclopedia has the area’s winery tally at 56, but it’s a fair bet a few new ones have sprung up since.
Onannon makes its wines on the Mornington Peninsula, home to the bolder but equally good Pinot Noir the trio makes. Their Gippsland wines, meanwhile, betray the coolness of the zone with their fresh, almost crunchy fruit. “We’re not afraid of having some acid in our wines,” says Byron. “To my mind, Chardonnay and Pinot are wines that probably should be a little bit edgy when they’re young. You’re waiting for the flesh and personality to go around the skeletal stuff that you prepare when you’re making it.”
Fruit for the 2012 wines came from East Gippsland. Byron says the Chardonnay here shows stone fruit characters reminiscent of classic Yarra Valley, while the acid line reminds him of the Mornington Peninsula. On top of that, there’s an elusive dimension that sets it apart. This particular one was fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak barriques (25% new), saw a little lees work and didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.
The 2012 Pinot hails from another vineyard close by, where Byron sees “gameyness, purity and prettiness” as hallmarks. The future 2013 release, on the other hand, is made from South Gippsland fruit, noted for the structure and ageworthiness of its wines.
Byron and his partners are “bloody busy doing a lot of other things” but they’ll somehow find time during vintage to put together some more head-turning wines. The plan is for one of them, most likely Byron, to take a lead and build it into a two to three thousand-case production over the next couple of years.
“We’re just really good mates and we wanted to make wine together,” says Byron. “It’s a bit like being in a band. We could all go off and release our own solo albums but we thought that with the three of us coming together, it just ticks all the boxes.”
Onannon Gippsland Chardonnay 2012
Gleaming medium lemon in colour with a somewhat muted nose of lemon peel, peach and banana skin, plus some nuttiness. It really grabs your interest on entry, with pure, zesty lemon zinging around a core of firm white nectarine. Tightly structured and focused, with bracing, citrusy acid driving it to a white-grapefruit finish of moderate length. Drink now to 2018+.
Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 13.3% – Tasted 22/12/13 – Diam
Onannon Gippsland Pinot Noir 2012
Crimson pink and perky, a touch hazy too. Lovely, fragrant nose of strawberries, red cherries, fennel and spice. Fresh, crunchy red berries are there on the silky palate, which has good intensity, too. The tannins are fine, the acidity cleansing with a tangy sharpness. The finish of wild strawberry with a faint whiff of rose petals leaves the mouth watering for another glass. Beautiful, summer-drinking Pinot Noir. A revisit a few months later showed greater complexity and depth to the wine; I expect the next five or so years to be very kind to it.
Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 12.8% – Tasted 03/09/13 – Diam